On its first two albums, The Fray specialized in pleasant-sounding singles like “How To Save A Life” and “You Found Me” that were arena-friendly, though not terribly distinctive. The Denver quartet’s third album, Scars & Stories, includes more of the same sincere piano-led anthems, but the real surprise is just how bland The Fray’s music has truly become. Gone are the memorable, sing-along choruses, and in their place are tedious melodies presented in the most predictable way imaginable.
Arena-friendly pop-rock doesn’t have to be this boring. The Fray’s heroes Coldplay know how to change things up, accentuating a dramatic moment with a well-placed crescendo. By contrast, The Fray makes little use of dynamics, keeping every song at an unwavering medium pace. It’s as if the band is actively trying to turn its songs into background music: There may be a climax on lead single “Heartbeat,” but the song’s overly repetitive chords and unchanging volume never build to any kind of payoff. Making matters worse is lead singer Isaac Slade, whose lifts into his upper register on songs like the quiet “I Can Barely Say” are waiflike and nearly inaudible. Scars & Stories isn’t completely lackluster—the bassline on “Turn Me On” gives the song some much-needed momentum—but ultimately, these mid-tempo, mid-volume tunes flounder in mediocrity.